Thursday, May 3, 2012

Scientists: diabetes in children is alarming and dangerous

Western societies have seen a dramatic increase in child obesity over the last decade. Our bad diet habits are causing all sorts of problems, such as type 2 diabetes. This form of diabetes has long been regarded as a disease for the elderly, but this is no longer the case. Eating a lot of fatty and sugary foods results in blood sugar levels that our body cannot cope with, despite cranking up the insulin level. When the body can no longer regulate the blood sugar level, medicine steps in. However, while several drugs have proven to be beneficial for adults, they seem to affect children in lesser extent. According to scientists, children that develop diabetes type 2 will suffer from the consequences for the rest of their life.

One of the first drugs administered to patients suffering from diabetes type 2 is metformin, which is supposed to lower glucose, or blood sugar, levels. Research from the University of Pennsylvania points out that this drug was unable bring the glucose levels back to healthy ranges in about half the kids that were investigated. Additional observations include the need for hospitalization for one in five kids, due to complications, and the fact that an increase in exercise did not appear to assert any discernible effect. As a result, many of the investigated children with diabetes type 2 needed high doses of insulin within a year, to cope with the increased glucose levels.

Scientists divided the test subjects, a total of 699 overweight children aged 10-17 with recently diagnosed diabetes type 2, into three groups. One group received metformin treatment, another received metformin in combination with a second drug, called rosiglitazone, while the third group was given metformin in combination with an extensive diet and exercise program which has proven to be effective in adults. According to the scientists, all three treatment schemes resulted in high failure rates: metformin treatment did not have a beneficial effect in over half of the group, while the combination treatment with rosiglitazone failed for 39 percent of the teens. The last group showed a failure rate of 47 percent. The test subjects were followed for a period lasting around four years.

The observations show treating the young for diabetes type 2 is a lot harder than for adults suffering from the same disease. Even after four years of follow-up, the percentage of children that did not show any improvement in their condition remains high; an alarming result. It remains unknown why treatment is not effective for children. One could argue that drugs are made for adults, but the scientists have also shown that exercise, which is universally beneficial, is unable to assert the desired health effect as well. Despite underlying causes, the results clearly point out that diabetes in childhood is dangerous.

Because the increasing prevalence, scientists are focusing a lot of resources on uncovering the biological causes of obesity, which often results in diabetes. Recent studies have shown that the brain plays an important role in obesity, as well as other parts of the nervous system. A brain cell transplant was even found to be effective in decreasing body fat. Additional research shows that a new form of genetic modification plays a role in causing diabetes, while another study has shown that a 'fat switch' makes some people obese faster than others.

It was already known that child obesity and corresponding development of diabetes is becoming an ever-increasingly large problem, not only for the patient but also for our healthcare systems. Where diabetes type 2 was a problem for the elderly decades ago, it is now something affecting all age groups. Because the disease is dangerous when left untreated, taking appropriate care is of paramount importance. The study from the University of Pennsylvania shows that it is a bigger problem than we thought. Lack of treatment effect in kids means the earlier onset of diabetes is dangerous and has long-lasting consequences. It means the necessity to counter the increase in child obesity is of vital importance, if we want to prevent a widespread epidemic endangering the lives of many people.

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